Reaction to New Dallas Police Chief's Crime-Fighting Plan

Crime challenge includes homicide, up 30% so far in 2021

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New Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia will unveil his plan to combat violent crime on Wednesday, but people were already talking about it Tuesday.

After coming to Dallas in February from San Jose, California, Garcia faces a higher Dallas crime rate with key categories still rising.

Figures as of Sunday show Dallas homicide up 30% so far in 2021 with 69 killings compared with 53 in the same period last year. Aggravated assault offenses were up 7% so far in 2021.

Much of Garcia's new Dallas plan includes strategies recommended by the Dallas Mayor’s Safer Communities Task Force in January 2020.

NBC 5 went to Kansas City in 2020 to see how police there use 'risk terrain modeling' based on neighborhood characteristics to predict where crime may occur.

Former Dallas Chief U. Renee Hall supported risk terrain modeling.

New Chief Garcia calls a very similar approach ‘Place Network Investigation’ in his plan, but adds a review of Dallas Police crime-fighting strategy by experts at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

NBC 5 shared Garcia’s plan with several former members of the Dallas Mayor’s Safer Communities Task Force for their review, including activist Changa Higgins, LULAC Leader Rene Martinez and criminologist Alex Piquero.

“It almost seemed like it was just a rehash of strategies that we've already seen with Chief Hall,” said Higgins. “I don’t see any of that stuff moving the needle.”

Higgins said the new chief has yet to hold a meeting with community activists, which former Chief Hall did soon after her arrival.

Martinez was a co-chairman of the Dallas Mayor’s Task Force. He said Chief Hall failed to make effective connections with Dallas Latino leaders, but Martinez has had frequent communication with Garcia since his Dallas arrival.

“I think that the chief has just taken our report to another level and I’m very impressed with it,” Martinez said. “He’s brought in more criminologists which is always good. It’s always good to have experts looking over your shoulder.”

Garcia’s plan also embraces other recommendations of the task force, like better lighting in high crime areas and removing blight that degrades neighborhoods.

Former University of Texas at Dallas Criminal Justice Expert Alex Piquero, who also served on the Dallas task force, is now at the University of Miami.

“The things we recommended are precisely the things that are in this document, so I’m heartened by the fact that the Chief is going to implement these strategies. And he’s focused on short term, medium term and long term and I think that’s a really important point,” Piquero said.

Some of the task force approach suffered a setback during the COVID-19 pandemic, Piquero said. Civilian violence interrupters, who try to talk potential criminals out of violence, can only work once people are allowed to make face-to-face contact once again.

"What is laid out in our original report to the Mayor and in this document is a good step forward," Piquero said.

Garcia’s plan adds what he calls “Focused Deterrence” as a hot spot crime-fighting strategy to bring all efforts and multiple agencies into the fight, including code enforcement. It would not be completely operational until next year.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said he likes the combination of assets, which he said Dallas has not fully used in the past.  For instance, Mata said code enforcement partnerships could help get rid of nuisance problems like abandoned buildings used by drug dealers.

“I think it’s a good start. I think it’s a good application of outside resources than just the police department to fight crime,” Mata said.

Mata, who leads the city’s largest police union, also said better communication with officers by the new chief has already made a difference.

“The rank and file know what is expected of them and what we are going to try and accomplish,” Mata said. “We all have to own some of this.”

Dallas City Hall reaction comes Wednesday when Garcia officially presents the plan to the Mayor and City Council.

Other categories of Dallas crime have been declining this year, partly blamed on stay-at-home behavior in the COVID-19 pandemic. Property crimes like burglary are down.

Robbery and sex offenses were down in the first four months of 2021 for an overall decline in violent crime of 6%.

In the first few weeks on the job, Garcia did not try to use the good numbers to avoid focus on the other violent crime problems, which he said must be addressed.

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